Labour's youth wing: Blairite elite pricing out working-class members

Young party activists say prohibitive costs will stop them attending key conference next month

Conrad Landin
Monday 01 February 2016 18:58 GMT
Jeremy Corbyn and supporters arrive at the Brighton Centre in September last year before the Labour leader’s speech to the party conference
Jeremy Corbyn and supporters arrive at the Brighton Centre in September last year before the Labour leader’s speech to the party conference

Young working-class Labour supporters who flocked to help Jeremy Corbyn win the leadership are being deliberately “priced out of democracy” by wealthy Blairites who have hiked the cost of a key conference, activists claim.

The Young Labour Conference in Scarborough next month is expected to see a pitched battle between supporters of Mr Corbyn and centrists for a seat on the national executive.

But delegates will pay a £30 registration fee for the Young Labour elections, and an additional £10 for the Labour Students conference. They will also be expected to cover their own accommodation costs and travel – bringing the total to around £130.

By contrast Labour Students’ last national event, its “political weekend” in November, cost £30 including accommodation and food.

Labour’s youth wing has been a stronghold of “loyalists” on the Blairite wing of the party for the past two decades, but the new influx of young members joining since Jeremy Corbyn was elected could reverse this trend. Some members have accused party staff of deliberately failing to address the long-running issue of costs to keep new members away. Will Sheret, chair of SOAS Labour society, said: “The whole system is designed to favour experienced party members with disposable incomes.”

Anna Sidebottom, who chairs University College London’s Labour club, added: “We were told by Labour Students initially the ticket price included at least one night of accommodation. We were then told this wasn’t being offered because there wasn’t the capacity in Scarborough.”

Labour Party General Secretary Iain McNicol has denied that activists are being priced out

However others in the youth wing claimed the Unite union was offering to subsidise the travel costs of delegates likely to support their chosen candidate for the NEC.

Labour’s youth and student wings have been closely supervised by officials since the early 1990s, when party bosses sought to expunge Militant tendency activists from the ranks. But left-wingers have long argued that a lack of autonomy and democracy has stymied their capacity to mobilise young people.

At this year’s conference James Elliott, who advised Mr Corbyn on youth policy during his leadership campaign, will seek election for the youth seat on Labour’s national executive. His rival, Jasmin Beckett, who – like Mr Elliott – is a member of the national policy forum, is being supported by centrist activists. Mr Elliott said the costs meant “lots of working-class young members are being priced out of democracy”.

Benjamin Butterworth, a supporter of Liz Kendall, who was elected chair of London Young Labour earlier this month, advocated changing the method of allocating positions on the London committee. Mr Butterworth’s left-wing rival Rachael Ward topped the committee ballot and would previously have been able to claim a senior position such as vice-chair or secretary. But instead, centrists voted to decide each position by a vote of the committee, meaning Ms Ward was instead appointed a junior campaigns officer.

Iain McNicol, General Secretary of the Labour Party, denied activists were being priced out. He said: “Making our events easier for young members to attend is a priority for the Labour Party. That is why we continue to promote a heavily discounted £5 Youth Pass to the Annual Conference and organise a number of free national youth events.”

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